Mr. Verma stretched towards the mahogany paneled coffee table in order to reach for the newspaper, the only bit of exercise he performed everyday. It was 7:20 in the morning and he was scheduled to head a meeting in his office in about forty minutes. But a morning wouldn’t feel like one without having a look at the paper.
Many people would refer to their habit of taking a cursory glance at the newspaper as reading. But Verma was someone who literally read it- he read each and every word in the paper including the places of publication. He was not much of a sports buff and could never make head or tail of what a Putt or a Dunk meant, but he wouldn’t consider discarding the last few pages as irrelevant for even a single day. It was a subconscious habit he had cultivated during his IIM days. Verma was not part of that elite bunch of people who were destined to whet their academic appetite in the most premier Management Institution of the country. He had to struggle for years, have a shot at CAT three times in a row before managing a seat in the institute. It was that period of his life, when he had had a single minded approach, which was responsible for some of his continuing workaday activities. It was the same single mindedness which made him realize his dream of entrepreneurship. Now he was the head of a company with a turn over of more than 50 crores. Verma attributed his success to the diligent routine he followed, the amount of hard work he put in during his early years and the impersonal ruthlessness he had cultivated over a period of time. He didn’t want any of them to change, and thus, the ritual of pouring over the newspaper never changed its schedule (he usually timed this ritual to fall in phase with his bowel movements, but was hurried into the latter on that particular morning).
Verma turned another page of the paper hoping to read an article which could be savoured. The news that particular day was bland, to say the least. He was astonished by the amount of publicity hype that filmdom managed to amass in the edition. The heydays of authoritative, bold journalism were as good as over. It was page 3 which ruled the roost in the paper these days. He was appalled by this trend. He kept up his ritual with great restraint and was about to give up the hope of any reprieve when his eyes spotted a curious looking column. It looked as though it was tightly squeezed into the usually empty space in the Classifieds section. Moreover it was not an Advertisement by any means. It looked like a letter. Verma’s heart gave a lurch as he started to read it:
“Dear Mr. Vermin,
Yes…I am referring to you, Vermin. It’s high time that pallid face of yours registered a show of shock or surprise. I am very much aware of the daily ritual of your robotic mind to read every single page of the newspaper. That was the reason I chose to write this letter and squeeze it into this nondescript little column. I am also confident that after reading till here, though your heart will plead you to put the paper down and go about your business, that unemotional head of yours will pay no heed and you will continue to read.
Ok, let me come to my business. I know about the struggles you went through and the sacrifices you had to do in order to reach this elevation. But, tell me Vermin, do you realize the great many subtleties of importance you have missed in the process? Of course you studied in the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, but do you even understand the meaning of the Institution called Marriage? You are married and you do have children…Yes yes, Vermin, I know this counterargument is sure to spring up in your mind instantly. But do recount the last time you were out with your folk for an enjoyable evening! When was the last time you said to your wife that you loved her? I doubt if you have said it even once since your wedding. Do your children ever come up to you and share their experiences? Their anxieties, their problems with friends or teachers and their achievements?? All you want to know from them is their academic performances, simply to satisfy your egomaniacal reputation. When are you going to spend quality time with your children? When are you going to become their ‘Real’ father instead of the mere biological one that you are now?
Is that all? You might ask; believe me Vermin, there is more. I am yet to even broach the subject of your callousness as a son. Do you remember the last time you talked with your mother, Vermin? Do you even know her health condition or her needs? Do you think the monthly cheque you send her will suffice her needs? Oh, it will buy her food, provisions, medicine and other material things. But, what about love and care? What about peace of mind? Wasn’t she responsible for all that when you were younger and vulnerable? Now that she is old and careworn isn’t it your turn to reciprocate?
I am not going to go on after this. Please think about what I have said so far. Your family needs you not your fame, recognition or money…the real ‘You’…the ‘You’ who can love…the ‘You’ who can care… It is never too late.
A Concerned friend”
Verma sat clutching the paper; the hammering of his heart was so loud that he felt it could be heard outside. His wife came out of the kitchen. She was surprised to see her husband still with the paper. It was almost time for him to leave. As she came nearer, she saw a dazed look on his face, a look she had never witnessed before. She wanted to ask him what was wrong, but felt apprehensive.
As she turned to leave the hall, she heard him calling her. She looked at him with meek submissiveness. His face broke into a slow smile as his eyes filled with unrestricted tears. It was the first time he had smiled in twenty five years of marriage…it was the first time he had cried in forty two years of adulthood…